Fighting Spirit Film Festival Panel: Follow-Up Blog

A word of explanation: I am writing, and then scheduling, this blog post before you see it and way before the panel I refer to below. That’s why the grammar might be a bit strange.

On Sunday 23 August 2020, I will be honoured to participate in this panel hosted by the Fighting Spirit Film Festival:

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As with all panels, the conversation will ebb and flow so I am not sure exactly what I will say, or what I will have time to get into in detail. So, I thought that I would list a few of my talking points below as a follow up.

The theme of the panel is the cultural impact of martial arts films, and I have been asked on board to give a woman’s perspective. That is ‘a’, not ‘the’, for reasons I will mention briefly below.

Our wonderful organiser and facilitator, FSFF Assistant Director Weng Yu, has indicated that he might – depending on the flow of conversation – ask me about the following:

My personal history as a fan (how I got into these films)

I’m going to cut this long story short and mention just one incredibly important episode in my career as a fan, and then writer, of this genre. For a few years, maybe 7-10 years ago, I was heavily involved as a moderator on the Heroic Sisterhood page on Facebook. Set up and moderated by women, the page (which included both male and female followers) showed me the following:

  • That the female fan base is incredibly diverse; we are scattered across the globe and drawn to the genre for different reasons. This is why I can only offer ‘a’ woman’s perspective on the genre; for me to presume to talk for every woman would be arrogant.
  • That the friendship and encouragement of other female fans was incredibly important in boosting my confidence as a blogger about these films. I felt I had a ‘right’ to be a fan.

Favourite actresses and / or characters:

So many to choose from! So many great performers and characters who were not only entertaining and interesting, but showed strong, complex, rich qualities as female characters and performers. I might, or might not, get time to refer to:

  • Yim Wing Chun, and especially the way this important apocryphal martial artist is depicted in quite different films, and inspires different stories. Compare Yuen Wu Ping’s Wing Chun (1994) starring Michelle Yeoh – a romp of a film – with the quieter and more austere tone of Stranger from Shaolin (1977), directed by Tony Lou Chun Ku and Chun Jo Myuong and starring Cecilia Wong Hang Sau. This film takes the oft used revenge motif, and tells it from the point of view of a woman protagonist finding her way in what is very much a man’s world.
  • Josephine Siao Fong Fong’s brilliant turn as the wonderfully delinquent mother in Corey Yuen’s Fong Sai Yuk and its sequel (1993) overturns expectations of behaviour of both a dutiful mother and a stoic martial arts expert.
  • I would like to mention Angela Mao’s character in Hapkido and Michelle Yeoh’s character in Tai Chi Master. Two more great characters played by great performers; I really like the way these two female characters are depicted not as sex objects or damsels in distress but as colleagues and friends , different to, but important allies of, their male comrades. Given the often shallow depiction of women in movies, this is actually really refreshing to see for us ladies.
  • The female characters in King Hu’s movies. After Chang Cheh and Bruce Lee set the fashion for hyper-machismo films in the 60s and 70s, it was King Hu’s films that played an important role in celebrating a long-standing tradition of female martial artists being centred in martial arts film narrative.

I don’t think I’ll get the time in this panel (there are four panellists, one facilitator, and time for Q&A after all) to unpack the history of Chang Cheh’s intervention in making male stories dominant in martial arts filmmaking. It’s an interesting story, but a nuanced one. I give it a whole chapter in my book, and perhaps there’s a blog I could write about it, but not today.

For those of you booked into the panel – thank you for attending and I hope you enjoy(ed) it. For those of you who missed out, apparently it’s being recorded and you will be able to access that.

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